Google in 2017: AI-infused hardware, industry-shaking investments, and more


From establishing a strong foothold in AI, IoT, blockchain, and more, to trying to answer some strong questions about data privacy, work culture, leadership, and policies, 2017 has been an interesting year for tech biggies around the world. At the centre of these conversations, as usual, were Silicon Valley’s biggest names like Google, Apple, Amazon, Uber, and more.

We see how 2017 rolled around for Google:

Source: Flickr

Pushing AI-infused hardware

Google’s biggest news came from its devices portfolio. After months of speculation, leaks, and rumours, Google officially launched Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL in October. Loaded with Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processors, 4GB RAM, 12.2-megapixel rear cameras that have autofocus with lasers, dual-pixel phase detection, and optical and electronic image stabilization, the phone comes in two screen and battery sizes. Backing the new hardware was, of course, the latest version of Android as well as the newest iteration of Google Assistant, the company’s virtual personal assistant.

In fact, all of Google’s launches were backed by a strong focus on incorporating AI and machine learning into hardware capabilities. Google CEO Sundar Pichai has previously mentioned that he sees the future of Google in AI, and the company is investing heavily in improving its algorithms and incorporating them across its various offerings. This further reflected in other hardware launches in 2017.

For example, Google also forayed into an AI-based camera, the Google Clips. Available in teal-and-white two-tone colour, Clips comes with a 12-megapixel sensor, 8GB internal memory, and 3 hours of battery life. During the launch, Google positioned this camera for young parents who could now use AI to click life’s memorable moments instead of holding a camera in-hand the whole time, an interesting premise in our times.

Completing its portfolio of smart devices, the event also saw the launch of smart home devices, the Google Home Max and Google Home Mini. At the moment, the devices simply help consumers listen to podcasts and music, but soon they will come equipped with the ability to perform routine activities like switching and dimming home lights, setting alarms, managing calendars, and pairing with home security systems. Adding on even more features, the Google Home Max comes with a stereo speaker with 4.5-inch woofers.

Other device-related announcements focused on the Pixelbook and the DayDream View VR headset.

A year of milestones on the software front

On the OS front, Android crossed 2 billion monthly active users in mid-2017, making it the largest mobile operating system in the world. Besides this, Google Chrome, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Play, and YouTube too crossed the 1-billion milestone!

2017 was also the year when Google made a comeback to the budget OS conversation with its Android Go. After Android One couldn’t make a dent in the company’s objective to “get to the next billion”, it will be interesting to see how Android Go rolls out. At the I/O Conference earlier this year, Google said that it was building the Android Go for phones with less memory. Apps too will be optimized for low bandwidth and memory, and the Play Store will be customized for Android Go.

With broadband penetration rising at unprecedented levels and agencies and organizations of all sizes coming together for the cause of digital inclusion, it will be interesting to see the role Google plays in reaching the next billion. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the company leads this charge, as it has done in the past.

On the developer front, Google launched a new programme at the I/O Conference, ‘Building for Billions’. The programme helps developers around the world create optimized, customized apps for Android Go. Google also announced its augmented reality feature for Android earlier this year. ARCore, a software development kit (SDK), allows developers to bring augmented reality features to existing Android phones without any hardware updates. The kit is currently available for Pixel and Samsung Galaxy S8, but Google is aiming for 100 million devices by the end of the preview by partnering with device manufacturers like Samsung, Huawei, LG, ASUS, and others.

Business matters

Google continues to be one of the most valuable companies in the world, with an estimated brand value of almost $102 billion at the end of May 2017, according to Forbes. With over $80 billion coming in through sales across its various platforms in 2017 so far, the company is poised to continue its reign as one of the largest business behemoths in the world, surpassed currently only by Apple.

2017 was also a very busy year for GV (formerly Google Ventures), the venture capital investment arm of parent company Alphabet Inc. and CapitalG, the growth venture capital fund of the same company. In all, GV made an estimated 70 investments in 2017, totalling over USD 2.5 billion; CapitalG, on the other hand, made 9 major investments totalling USD 2.7 billion, including a massive USD 1.5 billion investment in Lyft in October/November and a USD 447 million investment in Airbnb.

The Lyft investment, in particular, is a huge shakeup for the app-based cab aggregator industry, especially in terms of competition to Uber. Given Google’s interest in developing its own autonomous driving technology through Waymo, it will be interesting to see how this investment affects the economy of the ridesharing world going forward.

But all was not hunky dory!

After a dramatic court battle that lasted seven years, the European Union (EU) fined Google an unprecedented 2.4 billion euros (roughly USD 2.7 billion) for its anti-competitive practices such as the company’s shopping service benefitting from the results that appear on the top of the search page when a user searches for a product.

Google’s self-driving car spinoff Waymo’s legal battle with Uber over intellectual property and trade secrets also heated up further this year. Both companies are headed to court in December this year in what promises to be a courtroom drama that tech enthusiasts around the world will definitely be keeping a close eye on.

What does 2018 look like?

Apart from major launches and business decisions, Google also had some major breakthroughs in miscellaneous areas. It’s global-scale distributed database Spanner was able to circumvent the CAP theorem, offering consistency in all its transactions while being available over a wide area. While not directly applicable for general consumers, it marks an important step in the process of building more robust systems.

Google also marked its first foray into the Indian subcontinent’s cloud offerings through the launch of Google Cloud in Mumbai earlier this month. In a bid to compete with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud also switched some of its services to a per-second pricing model similar to AWS, reducing costs for platform users.

All of these developments combined leave Google poised for great things in 2018. Better hardware offerings, improved AI-hardware integration, driverless cars, business expansion into new market segments – all these and more await the software giant in the coming year. There is one thing we can be sure of – Google will continue to lead innovation and trendsetting practices in the months and years to come. Stay tuned!